Three years is a long time in football. In 2018, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs submitted a late bid of £3m plus Josh Onomah to Aston Villa for Jack Grealish – it was rejected and Tottenham ended the window without any new signings.
Now, the Argentine is leading a project which has seen Paris Saint-Germain bring in Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sergio Ramos. Oh, and Lionel Messi.
Instead of panic-buying Moussa Sissoko on deadline day as a player to break the lines, Pochettino will have Kylian Mbappe darting in behind, Neymar and Messi pulling the strings, and a wide assortment of complimentary players to help out in attack. Not a Tom Carroll or Jay Rodriguez in sight.
When joining PSG at the back end of 2020, Pochettino would have known his remit in France would be far different to those he had in England and Spain. Success has a very black and white meaning now, and his job is not about a ‘project’ or a ‘journey’ – it’s about winning at all costs, finally delivering the Champions League.
It could hardly be different to Pochettino’s expectations with Spurs, largely because there weren’t many. It was well understood that Tottenham overachieved under his guidance, but could never find the killer blow on the pitch in order to add their names to honours lists. Oh well, no biggie, we’ll try again next year.
There wasn’t any real pressure on Pochettino to win the Premier League or Champions League, despite propelling Spurs into contention for both. He recognised they would not be able to compete with bigger clubs in England in the transfer market, that they would have to develop younger stars in order to elbow their way into those conversations. He won’t be afforded that same patience in Paris.
Pochettino is a spiritual man, one who believes in universal energy that leans on a sense of fate and destiny. He has a philosophy that requires every player to press and put in the hard yards – he did well to get that out of Neymar and Mbappe in their Champions League triumph against Bayern Munich in the spring. But getting one of the best players of all time, aged 34 and widely known for walking around the pitch, to buy into such methods will be a different challenge, and perhaps one that he should admit defeat with already.
Thomas Tuchel was known in Germany as an astute tactician, but had many a falling out at Borussia Dortmund ahead of his departure in 2017. There were question marks over his suitability and man-management in order to please PSG’s stars, but he led them to a Champions League final and went one better as Chelsea boss a year later – he successfully made the leap from nearly-man to winner.
Tuchel’s PSG and Chelsea sides are far different to his Dortmund team. His sides have become known for being defensively solid and delivering in big games rather than just for the exciting football he had BVB produce. Pochettino needs to follow that same trajectory and adjust his philosophy to compensate for a third star player, the most luxury footballer in history – it could decide whether his career is as a super-club coach or one who needs to punch up to succeed.
Now is not the time for patience, for 60 games a season of full-pitch pressing, for talk of lemons and universal energy. Pochettino must evolve into something beyond that – a bonafide winner.